Still Confused with Flash SEO? 10 Points to Convey Better

Last week, I was doing a small research on ‘how effectively we can optimize a Flash website for better search engine results’. On the same, I had a couple of discussions with some of the industry known experts in various forums and we all agreed on one point. If we get a chance to opt between a fully flash website or an HTML one, we will definitely choose the later. A fully flash website makes it difficult for SEO at present. There are options such as SWFObject or siFR or JS + but the RISK IS NOT ZERO. I repeat, ‘at present’. Things may change later and search engines may become smart enough to get it right.

Definitely I agree, Google now index flash websites and able to read the content inside flash movies. In the discussions about Flash and SEO, for some, it took time to digest this point, since they still hear some of the known experts keep on chanting ‘Search Engines can’t index Flash’. They tend to argue quoting from various blogs and threads, which repeat the same. A small advice to them, please check the date and year of threads or posts before you bookmark, SEO/SEM industry is dynamic, very much.

Coming back to our point, in reality, at present Google can read the content inside a flash movie, but at the same time they agree that it’s limited and they prefer non-flash websites. Here is what Google has to tell about Flash and other Rich Media Formats:

Flash and Silverlight (like other rich media formats) are inherently visual, which can cause some problems for Googlebot. Unlike some Internet spiders, Googlebot can read some rich media files and extract the text and links in them, but the structure and context are missing. Also, rich media designers often include content in the form of graphics, and because Google can’t detect words included in graphics, it can miss important keywords. In other words, even if we can crawl your content and it is in our index, it might be missing some text, content, or links.

I am not against using Flash or any other Rich Internet applications (RIA), but before spending thousands of dollars, I would suggest you to understand your needs.

Before opting a Flash website, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Why to opt Flash or What you want to convey which cannot be done using text/Image and HTML/CSS?
  2. Is that only the rich display made you opt for Flash or you see a real benefit such as more user friendliness or interactions by having it?
  3. Do you really need a splash page with an introduction movie inside? What percentage you anticipate will actually watch that instead of clicking the ‘Skip’ button right away?
  4. Are you aware about Flash makes your website load slow, and as per various studies, normal tolerance level of an average user to wait for your page to Load is about 8 to 10 Seconds?
  5. How important is SEO for your website? Are you aware about the search engine optimization difficulties by having a fully flash website?
  6. Suppose anyone suggest you to alternate the Flash content using SWFObject | siFR| JavaScript to feed the search engines. Are you aware about what Search Engines really want from those tactics?
    The risk is NOT ZERO implementing these techniques. Google wants you to provide your HTML version as close to the Flash as possible that makes it difficult to go on with. Search Engine Land has a post on this, please read it here.
  7. Do you know that using Flash for navigation makes it difficult to Link or bookmark individual page content and send direct links in email.
  8. How important you consider tracking your Visitors/implementing web analytics? Are you aware about the difficulties of tracking Flash or Rich Internet Applications (RIA)?
  9. What alternative you have for those visitors who don’t have a flash player installed in the browser?
  10. Last but not the least, in future, if you want to enhance your website, How difficult the task will be with a fully flash website?
    This is very important for website owners who doesn’t have technical knowledge, and the .fla file -source file- provided. Mostly they won’t be provided with the .FLA file and thus you have to go back to the original developer to do even for very small changes.

A Word from the Author:
I repeat, I am not against using flash or any other Rich Internet Applications (RIA) on your websites. More over, I do have too many friends who do excellent flash websites with great success. But my point is, when a website owner spends thousands of dollars for his flash interactive website, he should be aware about those points mentioned above. Otherwise, after spending that much money on the design, he will go mad hearing, his website Sucks, from an SEO. The suggested option is, minimize the use of Flash, avoid important areas such as Navigation, main content to index and use it for spicing up your pages to please your visitors.

13 thoughts on “Still Confused with Flash SEO? 10 Points to Convey Better

  1. Congratulations on making a very measured and accurate post on the state of Flash websites.

    I am no fan of Flash but it can definitely make multimedia (i.e. video & music) requirements simpler for web designers and web browsers too. YouTube is proof of that.

    I thought that Flash might step up to make a usable standard for the Canvas HTML element, but so far not much from Adobe.

    I guess the point that we are both making is that Flash is great for part of a page but not the whole lot.

  2. Yes, Flash is of course a great part of a website page. It can add up more coolness to the page and makes it easy when it comes to have videos or presentations.
    Unfortunately the current scenario is not suggesting Flash for search engine needs. So if you are in need of SEO better you know the difficulties of having a fully flash website.

  3. I was only looking at a flash site today (offering SEO services bizarrely) and sure enough, none of the content in the Flash had been indexed. So whilst it is a valid design tool, I’d still argue that having a full Flash site is as good as giving up on search traffic, no matter what Google says…

  4. AFAIK Google uses the Adobe’s search engine SDK. You can see the number of indexed swf files simply by searching [keyword filetype:swf] in google.

    e.g. seo filetype:swf will get you the seo related swf files in google.

  5. @ kichus

    The Adobe Search Engine SDK was designed for site search and not web search engines. It doesn’t provide all of the information Google needs. Flash supports 11 languages but Google more than 100. In other words Flash can’t be translated. Being “indexed” is the starting point were SEO begins and no real accomplishment. There are other issues to consider like an all flash “site” living at one URL. Meaning not a site but rather a page! By the way, engines ignore #anchors in URLs.

    “seo filetype:swf” has nothing to do with SEO swf files in Google. It is an advanced operator looking for the keyword “SEO” but only in flash-files. Google can index Flash, RANKING is the issue. Here is a link where you’ll find 2 million non-seoed Flash files indexed:
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&rlz=1B3GGGL_enUS271US272&q=loading…loading…loading&btnG=Search

  6. @Brian, Thank you for your valid inputs.

    By mentioning that filetype search, I was just trying to reply to the above comment to show Google has them indexed. I wasn’t saying being indexed is all of it.

    Sometimes website owners blindly believe that using the alternative methods they can get their fully flash websites into the top rankings. It’s true, but again only with doubled effort, risks and money. I am just conveying that part of it.

  7. @kichus searching by filetype will indeed show the things Google has indexed – and none of them will be from the site I was looking at (I won’t embarrass them with a link)

    As Brian points out getting indexed is just the start anyway, and using Flash makes all of it (IMO much) harder.

  8. Something else that should be mentioned is that a lot of flash elements on pages can be done using javascript specifically using jQuery which is readable by search engines.

    Now this doesn’t do you any good if we are talking about a complete site designed in flash, but next time you want to put a flash element on a page step back and consider if it can be done in javascript and then go that route.

  9. Very informative, I definitely agree that Flash has its time and place however I do have a few notes on specific points:

    4. AS3 can run up to 10 times faster than previous versions and a slow flash website usually means poor programming.
    5. This can be overcome by choosing the right programmer, a good one will know exactly how deep GoogleBot can go.
    6. Even when used appropriately there could be penalties however again, a good programmer would know how to use these tools appropriately
    7. Not when using SWFAddress and Mod Rewrite
    8. Not when using SWFAddress and Mod Rewrite

    Of course there are SEO limitations when it comes to keyword weight however GoogleBot seems to be able to select appropriate titles and I’m sure advances will be made to allow further specifications in the future.

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  11. For the sites based on Flash remoting, basically Rich Internet Applications, in this context, it’s not a big deal to properly optimize them for search engines.

    Quite frankly a buyer should be aware of the fact if their service provider cares about SEO. There are Content Management Systems out there that do this with an additional package, e.g. backbone3 with Flash SEO package.

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